Psalm 22 Summary, Meaning

Let’s attempt a Psalm 22 Summary. Open to Psalm 22.

Our adult Sunday School class started considering the book of Psalms in January of 2015. And we continued on in that series for about six months ending at Psalm 20 at which point we turned our attention to the book of Ecclesiastes. Having finished that book we’re now in the book of Jeremiah.

So when the opportunity arose to help Pastor and our Academy students to get on the road earlier today, after seeking the Lord it seemed clear I should take up the study of one of the psalms. And being a fairly systematic kind of fellow I looked at the psalm that comes after Psalm 20, which of course would be Psalm 21. But when I looked at that particular psalm I thought that it might be more appropriate for a teaching time and that Psalm 22 would be more fitting for a time like tonight – a worship service where everyone is expecting more of a preaching emphasis rather than simply teaching.

Now, Psalm 21 is Scripture and it is inspired by God and it is profitable to be sure. But Psalm 22 is overall I think more heart-warming. In Psalm 22 we get surprising glimpses of our Lord Jesus Christ. We get to consider both his death and his resurrection. What could be more fitting to close our Lord’s Day worship together than with that kind of consideration?

So, we’ll give the next few minutes to considering Psalm 22 where we see someone who at some point felt abandoned by God being answered by God. So, From Abandoned to Answered. We’ll travel with this one who felt abandoned by God through his lament or complaint, then through his prayer to God, and then finally through his final praise to the God who answered his abandoned soul.

So, first let’s consider the psalmist’s lament in Psalm 22:1-10.

Psalm 22:1-10 | Lament

Psalm 22:1a | Superscription

We’ll start with the superscription in Psalm 22:1.

KJV Psalm 22:1 <To the [chief Musician/choir director/music director] [upon/to the tune of] [Aijeleth Shahar/Morning Doe], A Psalm of David.>

Psalm 22:1b-2 | Feeling Abandoned

Now, as I say, we’re currently in the lament section of this psalm. In other words, in Psalm 22:1-10 we’re going to hear about what is bothering the psalmist the most at this point in his life.

In particular, the psalmist is feeling abandoned by God, as he expresses in Psalm 22:1-2.

My God, my God, why hast thou [forsaken/abandoned] me?

why art thou so far from [helping me/my deliverance], and from the words of my [roaring/groaning][?/.]

2 O my God, I [cry/cry out] in the daytime, but thou [hearest/answer] not;

and in the night season, and [am not silent/I have no rest/I don’t stop praying].

So, the psalmist feels abandoned by God. And a big part of the proof of this abandonment in his mind is unanswered prayer.

He’s prayed that the Lord would deliver him, but God seems very far from doing that.

He prays night and day. And this praying of his is desperate. He’s crying. He’s not silent – he doesn’t stop. This prayer is passionate and it’s persistent.

And even though that’s the case, the psalmist is not getting an answer from the Lord.

Now, I’d be surprised if we didn’t have anyone in this position in our midst. I think it would be an unusual thing if we didn’t have anyone in here who was feeling this way. I think it’s very likely that we have several people in here who struggle with feeling abandoned by God. You feel like he’s refusing to hear your prayers.

Well, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one who’s ever experienced this. The author of Psalm 22 did, too.

And you know who else did? Jesus Christ your Lord. The Hebrew of Psalm 22:1 reads “eli eli lamah azabthani”. These very words would be uttered about 1,000 years later by the Son of David, Jesus Christ when he was hanging on the cross. In Matthew 27:46 we have recorded:

KJV Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mark 15:34 records the same thing. The point is that the sinless Son of God experienced this kind of torturous reality. God experienced the painful feeling of being abandoned by… God. God the Son reported feeling as if God the Father had abandoned him and refused to hear his prayers.

So, if you’re feeling abandoned by God because he’s not answering your prayers, you can take some measure of comfort in knowing that both the psalmist here in Psalm 22 and Jesus Christ your Lord experienced the same grief.

Psalm 22:3-5 | God’s Character & Historical Dealings

Now, part of what makes this feeling of abandonment so much more difficult is that we know certain things about God – what he’s like and how he operates.

We know his character. He tells us about it in his word. And it’s that character that the psalmist reviews in Psalm 22:3-5.

3 [But/Yet] thou art holy,

O thou that [inhabitest/are enthroned upon/sit as king receiving] the praises of Israel.

So, God is holy. He’s not a sadistic God who would take delight in, say, torturing his people. Neither is he like an idol who has no power to deliver his people. No, he’s holy. He’s set apart from his creation and certainly from the ungodly aspects of that creation since the fall.

So, the psalmist reminds himself – and of course he’s praying this back to the God whom he feels has abandoned him – that God is holy.

And it’s that holiness, at least in part, that moves his people to praise him. That’s why the psalmist pictures the Lord as it were seated on the praises of his people as their king. His throne, in the psalmist’s eye, is actually made of praise.

And no doubt the psalmist’s heart was to praise this holy God of his and to contribute to this metaphorical throne of praise, though for the moment he’s feeling abandoned by this one whom he would otherwise wholeheartedly praise.

Now, the psalmist in Psalm 22:4-5 recalls a few reasons that Israel has praised the Lord in the past. Namely, they trusted God and cried to him and he responded to them by delivering them.

4 Our [fathers/ancestors] trusted in thee:

they trusted, and thou didst [deliver/rescue] them.

5 They cried unto thee, and were [delivered/saved]:

they trusted in thee, and were not [confounded/disappointed].

Psalm 22:6-8 | Not Experiencing That

And yet, this is not the experience of the psalmist. He, like his ancestors, trusts God. But, according to Psalm 22:6-8, he’s not yet been delivered from his enemies like his ancestors had been in times past.

6 But I am a worm, and no man;

[a reproach of men/people insult me], and [despised of the people/despise me].

7 All they that see me [laugh me to scorn/sneer at me/taunt me]:

they [shoot out the lip/separate with the lip/mock me], they [shake/wag] the head, saying,

8 [He trusted on the LORD/Commit yourself to the Lord] that [he would/let him/let the Lord] [deliver/rescue] him:

let [him/the Lord] [deliver/rescue] him, [seeing/for] he delighted in him.

So, the enemies of the psalmist are basically mocking him. He’s apparently in some sort of trouble. Trouble that makes it appear even to them that the Lord had indeed abandoned the psalmist.

And so, there’s something within the natural man that likes to kick people when they’re down. And that antagonism can often reach new heights when its directed against one who’s attempting to follow the Lord and live a life that pleases him.

Sometimes, the sufferings of the godly bring a special pleasure to the hearts of the godless.

We see these very dynamics at work in Matthew 27:41-43. Let me read what Matthew records as happening as Jesus – the sinless Son of God, the most godly man to ever live – hung on the cross as he paid for our sins.

41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, 42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. [And then they reference Psalm 22:8.] 43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

You just wonder – Did these priests and rulers actually know what they were doing when they referenced Psalm 22:8? Did they not know that this quote was from people who were thinking wrong?

Well, these men may have had no idea what they were saying. Maybe they even forgot the context of Psalm 22:8 when they uttered this saying. But this kind of behavior on the part of the godless of kicking a godly man when he’s down – it shouldn’t surprise us when it happens. Jesus Christ himself was a recipient of this kind of brutality. So was the psalmist. Don’t be surprised when it happens to you.

Psalm 22:9-10 | But the Relationship is Real

And you know, one of the hardest parts of this being mocked and taunted when we’re suffering – of having the closeness of our relationship with the God whom we worship questioned in an accusatory way – the difficulty of dealing with that is that so often we ourselves have some insecurity of our supposed closeness to that God.

Right? That kind of taunting of godless people when we’re suffering really aims at making us even doubt the reality of that God and the reality of our relationship to him.

And that’s why in Psalm 22:9-10 the psalmist himself speaks to the Lord and confesses the reality of their relationship. Despite what the enemies are implying – that God’s abandoned the psalmist – he knows that he has a real relationship with the Lord:

9 [But/Yet/Yes] thou art he that [took me out of/ brought me forth from/brought me out from] the womb:

thou didst make me [hope/trust/feel secure] when I was upon my mother’s breasts.

10 I was cast upon thee [from/since] [the womb/birth]:

thou [art/have been] my God from my mother’s [belly/womb].

The psalmist recognizes God’s hand on him since his birth. Really, since before his birth! When he was in the womb, the Lord had been so gracious to him.

It makes me think of Jeremiah 1:5 where the Lord tells the prophet that he’s known him before he was even formed in the womb.

This is also the relationship that the Lord has had with us who are his. He chose us before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4.

So, what do you do when your relationship with God is called into question by those who mean you harm and want to mock you? You can do like the psalmist did and recall the history of your relationship with the Lord. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.

Summary of the Lament

Well, so far we’ve seen the psalmist’s lament in Psalm 22:1-10. He started with expressing his feeling of being abandoned by the Lord. He recalled that God had in times past delivered his people. But then he notes that he seems to be the exception. God is not currently delivering him. And in fact, he’s got people who are mocking and taunting him for that apparent fact. But he comes back to the bed-rock truth that God knows him and he knows God, no matter what external circumstances might seem to indicate.

Psalm 22:11-21a | Prayer for Deliverance

And so it seems like the trajectory of this psalm is getting more and more positive. And yet, we’re not to the psalmist’s praise section just yet. Before he gets to that, he takes the next ten or so verses praying to the Lord in Psalm 22:11-21.

Psalm 22:11-13 | Strong Enemy

So, we’ll read the beginning of his prayer for deliverance in Psalm 22:11-13.

11 [Be not/Do not remain] [far/far away] from me;

for trouble is near;

for there is none to help.

12 Many bulls have [compassed/surrounded] me:

[strong/powerful] bulls of Bashan [the area east of the Jordan River known for its cattle] have [beset me round/encircled me/hemmed me in].

13 They [gaped upon me with/open wide at me/open to devour me] their mouths,

as a [ravening/prey-ripping] and a roaring lion.

The psalmist begins by acknowledging that trouble is near, but helpers aren’t. No fellow man is there to help him and many are there to harm him.

He compares these enemies of his to animals. Bulls. Strong bulls from Bashan. As if they’re all surrounding him.

Can you imagine being surrounded by strong bulls? Have you ever watched the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain? That’s where they let these bulls run through the streets toward the stadium and all these crazy guys run alongside them. Sometimes these people get gored by these wild beasts! Serves them right! If they’re silly enough to do something like that, they need to be ready for the consequences.

Well, anyway, bulls are strong and fierce. They’re frightening and dangerous. And yet I think many of us would rather face that particular animal over the next animal the psalmist compares his enemies to. Lions.

The psalmist pictures his enemies not only as strong bulls but also as lions who are opening their mouths wide to devour him. They’re hungry and will tear their prey. And in this case, their prey is our psalmist.

Psalm 22:14-15 | Weak Psalmist

Now, the psalmist turns in his prayer from considering his enemies and their strength to now considering himself and his relative extreme weakness in Psalm 22:14-15.

14 [I am/My strength] [poured out/drains away] like water,

and all my bones are [out of joint/dislocated]:

my heart is like wax;

it is melted [in the midst of my bowels/within me/inside me].

15 My strength is dried up like a [potsherd/piece of pottery];

and my tongue cleaveth to my [jaws/gums];

And here’s the worst part. Beyond the psalmist’s own weaknesses, he attributes this turn of events to his Lord whom he loves and is convinced loves him.

and thou hast [brought/laid/set] me into the dust of death.

Psalm 22:16-18 | Enemies

Now, at this point the psalmist changes his focus from himself back to his enemies in Psalm 22:16-18.

16 For [dogs/wild dogs] have [compassed/surrounded] me:

[the assembly of the wicked/a band of evildoers/gang of evil men] have [inclosed/encompassed/crowded around] me:

they [pierced/pin like a lion] [ca-ari – “as a lion”, maybe “dig”] my hands and my feet. [verse not referenced in NT of Jesus’ death]

17 I [may tell/can count] all my bones:

[they/my enemies] look and stare upon me.

18 They [part/divide] my garments among them,

and [cast lots/rolling dice] [upon/for] my [vesture/clothing].

The psalmist has already compared his enemies to bulls and lions. Now he’s comparing them to a pack of wild dogs that circles around him and threatens to kill him.

He pictures the enemies as piercing his hands and feet. He’s apparently so distressed and perhaps emaciated that he can see and count his bones under his skin. All his enemies are apparently looking at him perhaps as if he’s dead. And because it’s as if he’s dead in their eyes they feel that the time is right to divide his clothing amongst themselves.

It really is a rather difficult picture to piece together in the life of the psalmist. Like when did this happen to him and what did it look like? That’s hard to answer.

But it isn’t hard to place these statements in the life of Jesus Christ.

His hands and feet were pierced by Roman nails to a Roman crucifix.

Those Romans really did divide his garments and cast lots for his clothing.

And I would normally be inclined – with what I think I know about Hebrew poetry – to have thought that the actions of “parting” and of “casting lots” was basically the same thing stated with different words. That’s something I’d expect from the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

And likewise I would have assumed that the “garments” and the “vesture” were two different words identifying the same material.

But if I did that then I would be completely ignoring the point made by the apostle John who wrote the fourth Gospel in our Bible. He says the following in John 19:23-24.

KJV John 19:23 ¶ Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; [So, they each received a part of Jesus’ “garments”. His “garments” were “parted” or divided. But what about his “vesture”?] and also his coat [Which apparently John would identify with his “vesture”.]: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 24 They [The Roman guards.] said therefore among themselves, [] Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it [That is, instead of “parting” it like they did the “garments”!], whose it shall be [] : [Why did this happen?] that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith [in Psalm 22:18], [] They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. [] These things therefore the soldiers did.

So, no, at least in the case of Jesus’ death on the cross, this statement in Psalm 22:18 is not functioning in the same way that Hebrew poetry usually does. In Jesus’ case, the typical functioning of poetry with its parallelism seems to be applied in a more literal sense. Or the laws of Hebrew poetic literature were temporarily suspended. Or something along those lines!

But whatever the case, Psalm 22 – though it had meaning of its own for the psalmist who wrote it – yet it was written under the supervision of the Holy Spirit who saw to it that it was written in such a way that it could apply to the psalmist’s immediate circumstances of facing these enemies who were causing him to despair – and at the same time it could apply to Jesus Christ down to the very details which would typically be minimized in the mind of a normal interpreter.

Now, back to the psalmist’s immediate circumstances.

Psalm 22:19-21

Remember, the psalmist is still praying to the Lord for deliverance from these enemies of his and their murderous intentions for him. And he actually ends his prayer in Psalm 22:19-21.

19 [But be not thou/Do not remain] far from me, O LORD:

O my strength, haste thee to help me.

20 Deliver [my soul/me] from the sword;

my [darling/only (life)] from the power of the [dog/wild dogs].

21 [Save/Rescue] me from the lion’s mouth:

And I’m going to borrow the phrase “from the horns of the [unicorns/wild oxen] [remim].” at the very end of Psalm 22:21 and put it here and leave the rest of the verse for the next section.

So, the psalmist finishes his prayer asking the Lord to deliver him from the deadly intentions of these enemies whom he once again pictures as dogs and lions. And now here at the end he also compares them to strong horned wild oxen (the KJV’s “unicorns”).

Psalm 22:21b-31 | Praise

Now, something remarkable happens in the five words that we just temporarily skipped. The Lord answers the psalmist and this begins the praise section of this psalm which extends from Psalm 22:21-31.

for thou hast [heard/answered] me [|] from the horns of the [unicorns/wild oxen] [remim].

How did the psalmist know that God heard and answered him? I really don’t know. And this is part of the trouble with interpreting lament psalms.

When did the psalmist write the parts of this psalm anyway? Did he write the lament and prayer together and then put down the psalm for a while and then after he received some definite answer from the Lord he sat down and finished the psalm by writing the praise section? Does he write the entire psalm after its all happened so that the lament and prayer are written at a time in the psalmist’s life when the problems he’s complaining about in those sections are mere – and yet vivid – memories?

I don’t know all the details. But I do know that the psalmist wants to bring us along in the emotion of each of these sections as if it were happening right then and there.

As if when you’re reading this psalm these various things are unfolding at this very moment. So, when we’re reading the lament we need to feel it happening right now – not as if it’s theoretical or as if it was a problem at some point but isn’t anymore. No. The enemies are living and breathing and threatening the life of the psalmist.

And then when he transitions to God’s delivering him and his response of praise, he wants us to be able to forget all about the enemies as if they aren’t there anymore. God’s dealt with them. How? He doesn’t want us to ask that question, I think. He just wants us to glory in the Lord’s deliverance of him.

Psalm 22:22

And glory, the psalmist shall. The Lord has heard and answered his lament and prayer. And so the psalmist pledges to praise the Lord in Psalm 22:22.

22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren:

in the midst of the [congregation/assembly] will I praise thee.

And surely, the psalmist would have performed the actions he’s speaking of. He would certainly praise the Lord among his fellow-followers of YAHWEH.

But this very verse is applied again to Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews in Hebrews 2:12 uses this verse from Psalm 22 to make the point that Christ is not ashamed to call us believers in him – not his slaves, though we are – but his brothers. The author of Hebrews identifies Christ as uttering the words of Psalm 22:22.

Again, back to the psalmist’s situation in Psalm 22.

Psalm 22:23-24

Now that he’s promised to praise the Lord for his deliverance, he’s going to admonish those brothers of his to praise the Lord themselves. In fact, I think it’s best to see Psalm 22:23-24 as the content of the psalmist’s praising of the Lord to his brothers. This is what he’s going to say to them that will constitute his praising the Lord in their midst from Psalm 22:22. He addresses those brothers of his in Psalm 22:23.

23 Ye [that fear/loyal followers of] the LORD, praise him;

all ye [the seed/descendants] of Jacob, [glorify/honor] him;

and [fear/stand in awe of] him, all ye [the seed/descendants] of Israel.

Why the praise and the glorifying and the fear? Psalm 22:24.

24 For he hath not despised nor [abhorred/detested] the [affliction/suffering] of the [afflicted/oppressed];

neither hath he [hid his face from/ignored] him;

but when he cried unto him, he [heard/responded].

The psalmist will praise the Lord and admonish others to praise him because the Lord doesn’t ignore the suffering of the afflicted, but rather he hears and responds to their prayers for deliverance.

Psalm 22:25

Following that, the psalmist in Psalm 22:25 comes back to directly addressing the Lord with promised praise.

25 My praise shall be [of/from/because of/due to] thee in the great [congregation/assembly]:

I will [pay my vows/fulfill my promises] before [them that fear him/the Lord’s loyal followers].

Psalm 22:26

And when those in the great congregation of true believers hear the psalmist’s praise and when they see him paying his vows to the Lord, they’ll respond according to Psalm 22:26.

26 The [meek/afflicted/oppressed] shall eat and be [satisfied/filled]:

they shall praise the LORD that seek [the help of] him:

[your heart shall/may you] live for ever.

Psalm 22:27-28

And actually this praise will go beyond the great congregation of Israel. It will reach to the ends of the world according to Psalm 22:27-28.

27 All the ends of the world shall [remember/acknowledge] and turn unto the LORD:

and all the [kindreds/families] of the nations shall worship before thee.

28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S:

and he [is the governor/rules] among the nations.

How is it that the Lord delivering this Jewish psalmist from his enemies would result in world-wide praise of the true God?

Again, I have to imagine that this meant something to the psalmist himself. What exactly that is, I do not know.

But I do know that this psalm has been one of the most Messianic I’ve ever read. And so much of it – the verses in the lament and prayer sections – has been pointing to the Messiah’s death. But somehow that Messiah would die and yet after that be able to praise the Lord in the midst of his brothers. That implies resurrection.

And what is it that will enact the kind of dynamics we see in Psalm 22:27-28 – of world-wide praising of the Lord – if it’s not the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the Messiah not just of the Jews, but of the whole world? – when the king of Heaven’s Kingdom – the Lord to whom this kingdom belongs – came and died for our sins and rose for our justification.

Psalm 22:29-31

And the end of this psalm in Psalm 22:29-31 declares that the praise of this Lord who is king of the kingdom which rules even over the nations will be some day ubiquitous.

29 All they that be [fat/prosperous/thriving] upon earth shall [eat/join the celebration] and worship:

all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him:

[and/even/including] none can keep alive his own soul.

Both the living and the dead will praise the Lord who rules over all.

And this will continue indefinitely as the living pass on their praise of this Lord to the next generation.

30 [A seed/Posterity/A whole generation] shall serve him;

it shall be [accounted/told] [to/of/about] the Lord [for/to] a generation [i.e., that is to come/next].

31 They shall come, and shall declare his [righteousness/saving deeds]

unto a [people that shall be born/future generation], [that/what] he hath done this.

And may the Lord help us to serve him in our generation and to tell the next generation about his righteous saving deeds on our behalf.

2 Replies to “Psalm 22 Summary, Meaning”

  1. Excellent Commentary in this text on psalms 22, good breakdown and yes many times I have wondered if the LORD heard my prayer in a lot of situations. I have also seen Him move on somethings that I was not aware of happening in my life. Thank you for your hard work and effort putting this together.

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